What's happened to the remains of our much-loved Cubbington pear tree - and wood from others trees chopped down by HS2 around Leamington and Kenilworth?

After the felling of the Cubbington Pear Tree on October 20, questions are now being asked about what happens next with the leftover wood

On the left, the pear tree branches in the ground. Photo by Frances Wilmot.

It was the sight we all feared - the felling of the 250-year-old Cubbington pear tree, a local landmark which had become a symbol of the destruction caused by HS2 workers for a new high speed rail line.

The chopping down of the tree last month made national news and caused a huge outcry.

The Courier and Weekly News dedicated much space to the campaigns to save the tree, as well as the ancient woodlands on the edge of Leamington and Kenilworth.

The leftover wood from the pear tree that was handed over to the woodworker.

But now with so much of that natural habitat has been destroyed, we wanted to know what has happened to the wood.

But first, the Cubbington Pear, which was voted the best tree in England in 2015 in a poll run by the Woodland Trust.

When it was felled on October 20, the plan was for the root plate to be moved into the 'mitigation site' and saplings to be replanted so 'it can also live on in the form of new trees in the local area', according to HS2.

The wood from the tree was donated to the Cubbington community with some of it being converted into a memorial bench.

The leftover wood from the pear tree that was handed over to the woodworker.

Rose Guiot is a member of the Cubbington Action Group Against HS2, a group that has spent ten years fighting to protect our woodlands.

She said: "In 2017 the parish council requested some wood from HS2 Ltd to make a memorial of some kind and in 2019 I received a verbal assurance that this would happen.

"I’d suggested having a couple of thin horizontal trunk slices to create timelines – perhaps a project for the local schools – plus something else to be determined. A local woodworker offered to make a bench, which seemed like a good idea.

"Our then community engagement manager was given his and our contact details back in September. When the tree was felled I spent some time trying to find out what the arrangements were for our woodworker or ourselves to get the wood.

How the Cubbington Pear looked before it was felled. Photo by Frances Wilmot.

"Eventually I learned from the woodworker that a lorry load of various sizes of wood had been delivered to him.

"He was not at all impressed by its condition, and made this known. Whether making a bench will be feasible is not certain.

"On complaining to HS2 Ltd, I was told that “all available wood” had been delivered.

"The rest of the wood was supposed to have been left as 'habitat' on the 'mitigation site'. I can see that two large branches have been stuck in the ground – apparently for birds and bats to roost.

Many saplings planted in spring appear to have died. Photo by Frances Wilmot.

Rose said the woodcutter was not only unimpressed by the condition of the wood but also by the way it was delivered to him.

"What our woodworker received does not make up the whole of the tree, so what happened to that I have no idea," said Rose.

A spokesperson for HS2 told us that over the last few years the HS2 team have been 'working closely with the local community to ensure that the Cubbington Tree can be commemorated, and that it can also live on in the form of new trees in the local area'.

"We have donated the majority of the wood from the tree to the Cubbington community, and a local wood carver is working with the parish council to fulfil requests for commemorative items," said the spokesperson.

“HS2 understands the importance of the Cubbington Pear tree to people in Leamington and beyond, and over the last few years we have worked closely with the local community to ensure that the tree can both be suitably commemorated and also live on in the form of new trees in the local area.

"In addition, we have worked with expert horticulturalists to take cuttings from the tree from which we’ve grown 40 saplings, some of which will be planted this winter."

HS2 crews prepare a site for tree saplings. Photo by Frances Wilmot.

"Our ecology team has also worked with the local community and expert horticulturalists to make sure that the pear tree has a lasting legacy for future generations.

"Over 40 new trees have been grown from cuttings taken from the tree, and some of these are ready to be planted in new habitats in the local area being created by HS2’s early works contractor LM this winter."

"We have also engaged with local authorities and they will receive some of the saplings for planting in early December, and the remainder will be placed in the mitigation site at South Cubbington Woods in the next few weeks.

"The remaining coppice stump has been translocated to an area of new planting next to South Cubbington Wood, as well as part of the main trunk to provide deadwood habitat for bat roosting opportunities and homes for other wildlife."

Rose says she is not convinced that all the wood has been donated to the community and is keen to point out that the propagation of the pear was initiated by Paul Labous of Shuttleworth College who contacted Cubbington Action Group in 2014.

She said: "Cuttings were taken by our chairman Peter Delow and myself from first the crown (unsuccessfully), after which we tried the basal growth.

"The second attempt with the basal cuttings succeeded. We then obtained DNA tests on leaves from the tree itself and the

sapling propagated by Paul to ensure that they were identical (i.e. the original tree was not grafted). The two samples were identical.

"On learning of the successful graft, HS2 Ltd invited Paul to Cubbington in late 2017 to explain how he’d achieved this and in February 2018 he came and gave a presentation. HS2 Ltd then gave the contract for propagation to a commercial nursery."

Rose said that she requested the pear saplings near the woods should be planted where local people can water them, to ensure they survive.

"On the plus side, we were told recently by the man in charge of the planting that saplings would be arriving very shortly," she added.

"This is good news, as in 2019 they were still planting in late April, whereas planting time for bareroot saplings is November to March.

"The new saplings will get a good start, as long as the ground doesn’t become waterlogged – but it usually does in winter due to the heavy clay soil.

"There will be more water this year because so many trees and hedges have been removed and will not be there to take in some of the surplus water.

But Rose says that saplings one metre tall cannot replace ancient trees. "Especially when so many die, and to say they are planting “new woodland” is ridiculous", she added.

"It won’t be anything like a wood for decades. Ancient woodland is as much about soil as trees.

"We shall have to wait until spring to see whether the 'translocation' of some of the soil from the wood to the mitigation site has worked or not."

Frances Wilmot is another member of Cubbington Action Group. After a recent visit to the site with Rose, she said: "Two large branches from the pear tree were planted bizarrely in the ground, presumably for bats and birds to perch on but due to the noise, activity and wind on that site most wildlife will surely have fled.

"The HS2 diverted path down the valley, used by many walkers and dog-walkers, was very muddy and rutted on sections where HS2 vehicles crossed it, needing some reparation as it is the official diversion footpath."

So what about all the trees that have been felled around Leamington and Kenilworth?

With regards to wood from Crackley Wood and South Cubbington Wood, HS2 says it has given wood chip to community allotments and public areas as requested by parish councils or schools in rural villages across the whole region.

HS2 enabling works contractor, LMJV (Laing O’Rourke and J. Murphy & Sons) have also just presented a owl sculpture made from wood from Crackley Wood, to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, alongside a £10,000 donation to support the work of the trust.

The owl sculpture is one of a series of ten carved artworks created by local artist Jason Fryers, which LMJV and Five Rivers Contracting are donating to two charities and eight local schools in the region.

On the wider region, the HS2 spokesperson said: "Around 80,000 trees have already been planted in the region and 40 ponds have been created, along with many acres of wetland, heathland and meadow providing new wildlife habitats including badger setts, bat houses, bird boxes and reptile banks to help local wildlife populations thrive and support delicately balanced local ecosystems."

Saplings on the side of HS2 track, near the pear tree site. Photo by Frances Wilmot.
Another old tree destroyed and carted away. Photo by Frances Wilmot.